Central New Mexico Community College is preparing to fire up what may be the fastest wireless internet system on a college campus in the nation.
Albuquerque startup OptiPulse Inc. installed the network over the last eight months. CNM is now working out the final kinks to flip the on switch, said Kyle Lee, CEO for CNM Ingenuity, a nonprofit that manages all of CNM’s commercial activities.
“We’re doing the final testing now,” Lee said. “We expect to turn it on in June.”
Once up and running, the system will offer 1 gigabit-per-second upload and download speeds for end users on CNM’s main campus. That’s about 100 times faster than the typical 10 megabit-per-second speeds provided by most cell towers today.
It will cover the entire area from CNM’s JS Building at Coal and Buena Vista SE, where the college’s nursing program is located, to the Student Resource Center about 100 yards south of there, which houses CNM’s library and a major computer center. Anyone in that area can freely access the wireless signal on their smartphones and other devices.
“That’s easily a couple of thousand people on any given day,” Lee said. “It will offer capacity to transmit an incredible amount of data. This gives us immediate access to technology that’s expected to grow tremendously over the next decade, leading to more modern phones, equipment and interconnected classrooms.”
For OptiPulse, it offers a real-world test bed and demonstration site for its technology, which the company will begin marketing this year.
The company, which launched in April 2015, has developed a novel, optics-based telecommunications system. It uses proprietary, high-power laser chips to beam wireless data across a new type of network for urban and rural areas at 10 gigabits per second allowing for direct download and upload by end users at 1 gigabits per second.
The technology could offer a plug-and-play alternative for high-speed Internet at potentially half the cost of fiber optics or expensive cell towers.
Local investors have pumped $2.5 million in seed capital into the company. That includes CNM Ingenuity, the University of New Mexico, local telecom firms Sacred Wind Communications and Plateau, and about a dozen individuals.
OptiPulse is now raising another $6 million to begin producing its first commercial products.
It contracted Radius Innovation and Development, a division of global engineering giant Jabil, to build the first system prototypes this year, said OptiPulse President and Chief Operating Officer John Joseph, who created the OptiPulse technology.
“It’s a fast prototyping company that will create a rapid assembly process,” Joseph said. “We’ve ordered our first 20 units for this year. Next year, we’ll move to 700 units, and in 2021, to 3,700.”
That will put the company on an incremental revenue path to long-term commercial growth, with the new $6 million raise providing a bridge to become cash positive.
“That money will help us go from low- to high-volume production of devices, giving us about two years of running time to get us to market,” Joseph said.
Those devices are compact transceivers, or nodes, that customers can mount in cities or communities to beam high-speed internet back and forth. Any end user who wants to can then hook into the node network.
The transceivers are powered by OptiPulse’s proprietary laser chips, which are built on a “vertical cavity surface emitting laser,” or Vixel array platform that allows engineers to grow crystals directly on a semiconductor wafer. The crystals are arranged in ways to produce minuscule cavities with mirrors on the sides.
As electricity flows through the cavities, it’s converted into photons and phonons, meaning the electric current creates light each time it pulses through the cavities. That resonates within the cavity to push a powerful circuit of energy out of a small spot.
OptiPulse harnesses those laser pulses to create a high-power light source at very low cost. It uses multiple chips with hundreds of lasers on each one to simultaneously beam wireless data from one transceiver to another.
The company mounted two nodes at CNM on the JS and Student Resource Center to create a micronetwork pilot project on campus.
Once it’s operating, the goal is to install more nodes to expand the network throughout CNM’s main campus, and possibly to branch campuses later on, said OptiPulse CEO Mathis Shinnick.
“Once it’s up and running, we’ll install more nodes across CNM in a mesh network for a larger testbed,” Shinnick said. “We’re also planning pilot projects in rural areas with Sacred Wind and Plateau that we expect to have up and running by the end of the year.”